Copts Halt Ecumenical Talks Over Rome’s ‘Change of Position’ on Homosexuality

Coptic leaders said their church believes in human rights and freedoms but that these freedoms must not be used to ‘violate the laws of the Creator.’

Pope Francis meets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II during an audience in the Apostolic Palace on May 11, 2023, at the Vatican.
Pope Francis meets Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II during an audience in the Apostolic Palace on May 11, 2023, at the Vatican. (photo: Vatican Media via Vatican Pool / Getty Images)

VATICAN CITY — The Coptic Orthodox Church has confirmed that its decision last week to suspend dialogue with the Catholic Church was due to Rome’s “change of position” on homosexuality.

In a video released on Friday, Coptic Orthodox spokesman Father Moussa Ibrahim said “the most notable” of nine decrees emanating from the church’s annual Holy Synod which took place last week in Wadi El-Natrun in Egypt was “to suspend theological dialogue with the Catholic Church after its change of position on the issue of homosexuality.”

The video message followed the conclusion of the Holy Synod the day before and an accompanying statement in which Coptic Orthodox leaders had said they were suspending dialogue with Rome. 

“After consulting with the sister churches of the Eastern Orthodox family,” they wrote, “it was decided to suspend the theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, reevaluate the results achieved by the dialogue from its beginning twenty years ago, and establish new standards and mechanisms for the dialogue to proceed in the future."

The leaders also reaffirmed their rejection of same-sex relations, stating their “firm position of rejecting all forms of homosexual relationships, because they violate the Holy Bible and the law by which God created man as male and female, and the Church considers any blessing of such relations, whatever its type, to be a blessing for sin, and this is unacceptable.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, headed by Pope Tawadros II, is one of the world’s oldest Christian denominations whose founding dates back to St. Mark the Apostle. The principal Christian church in Egypt (the word “Copt” is derived from the Greek word Aigyptos, meaning Egypt), the precise number of its members is unknown but estimated to be between 10 and 20 million people out of a total Orthodox population of 260 million.

Although it describes itself as Orthodox, it is not in full communion with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Eastern Orthodoxy, but remains united with the Ethiopian, Armenian, Eritrean, Malankara and Syriac Orthodox churches, collectively known as the Oriental Orthodox churches. None of these churches accept the Council of Chalcedon in 451 and its definition of the “two natures” of Christ. Since the late 20th century, the Oriental Orthodox churches have sought to dialogue with Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy which for centuries had considered them heretical.

Last year, dialogue appeared to have progressed to such an extent that the Vatican allowed the Coptic Orthodox to celebrate their own Divine Liturgy in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. The following month, in an unusual move, Pope Francis included 21 Coptic Orthodox faithful, martyred by Islamic State in Libya in 2015, in the Roman Martyrology — an official list of martyrs, saints and blesseds.

Father Ibrahim’s video statement came after some observers had said on social media that the statement made no specific reference to the Vatican’s Dec. 18 declaration Fiducia Supplicans which allowed a “non-liturgical” and “spontaneous” blessing of same-sex couples. They also said it did not state that the decision to suspend the dialogue was related to the document.

The Coptic Orthodox leaders’ statement did not make any explicit reference to Fiducia Supplicans but their reassertion in the text of their church’s teaching on homosexuality, firmly based on Sacred Scripture, coupled with Father Ibrahim’s video message, made the cause of their suspension of dialogue incontrovertible.

They noted in their statement that God created man both male and female, that all persons are called to holiness, and that all are to live according to his will and “divine design for marriage between a man and a woman.”

They stressed that anyone who struggles with same-sex attraction but “controls this desire is praised for their efforts and is left subject to the same temptations as heterosexual individuals.” Similarly, they said it is “essential” that they “seek true repentance” as an adulterous heterosexual person would.

“If someone chooses to embrace their homosexual tendency, however, and refuses to seek spiritual and emotional help, but continues to break God’s commandments, in that case, their situation becomes the same as someone who is living in adultery,” the statement continued. “In such cases, they must be warned and advised to abstain from communion, seeking repentance.”

One of the main criticisms of the document is that it makes no mention of repentance or pledge of an amendment of life before receiving such a blessing.

Quoting the words of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, with further references to his first letter to the Corinthians and passages from Leviticus, the Coptic Orthodox also underlined the Church’s condemnation of same-sex acts. “Accordingly,” they added, they “strongly” oppose “all forms of sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage,” adding that they see it as “sexual distortion.” They also “firmly” rejected that cultural contexts could be used to “justify same-sex relationships” as the Copts believe it is “damaging to humanity” as a whole.

They said their church believes in human rights and freedoms but that these freedoms “are not absolute” and must not be used to “violate the laws of the Creator.”

“The Church affirms its commitment to fulfilling its pastoral role in aiding individuals who have homosexual tendencies,” they said in closing. “It also emphasizes that it does not reject them, but instead, provides support and assistance to help them achieve an emotional and spiritual solution.

“The Church places its trust in our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” they said. 

The Register contacted for comment Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity, but he had not responded by press time.